The American public is eager for dramatic change in U.S. energy policy, but Democratic efforts to sell their agenda on energy and climate change aren't reaching voters, a prominent Democratic Party polling firm is warning.

The strategy memo from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and the think tank Third Way also warns that while few voters expect a national energy overhaul to be inexpensive, Democrats are susceptible to Republican arguments that energy proposals will be overly burdensome.

The 12-page memo [pdf] was based on a dozen focus groups conducted with swing voters in six states. Based on those sessions, the memo says clean-energy advocates face "significant" challenges in selling their agenda.

The memo advises that the best sales pitch for Democrats' plans is "Get America running on clean energy." Forget talk about "green jobs" and "cap and trade."

Democrats should drop "cap and trade" altogether since it carries negative connotations, the memo advises. "The problem with 'cap-and-trade' isn't only that it lacks meaning for voters, it actually focuses on the wrong things," it says.

Specifically, the memo says "cap" is a problem since voters are focusing on policies that promote economic expansion, not limit it.

"By focusing on capping something, rather than creating something," the memo warns, "we steer the debate down a dead end."

Other recommendations in the memo:

    * Broaden the message beyond jobs to overall domestic economic growth, as voters are looking to embrace policies that will jump-start the economy and make the United States a world leader.

    * Do not focus on global warming as a primary vehicle for selling the energy agenda, since voters do not see it as an immediate threat to the United States or to themselves.

    * Make the case that clean energy will reduce dependence on foreign energy sources, but do not call for "energy independence." Many voters realize that such a promise is false and will react poorly if that goal is not met.

    * Drop "green jobs," which conjures images of "people making environmentally friendly soaps and household products and is seen as exclusionary by some." Instead, focus on talking about getting the country running on clean energy.

    * Embrace the "all of the above" message on energy policy -- that is, getting energy from a variety of sources, including fossil fuels -- as voters already see Democrats supporting renewable energy development.

    * Argue that opposing a clean-energy agenda is "more of the same," since voters appear hungry for change.

In addition, the memo argues that advocates need to be more willing to use numbers to combat claims from some Republicans that cap-and-trade legislation will dramatically increase prices on consumers.

The charge that Democrats' energy plans will cost families an average of $3,000 a year -- a number commonly circulated by opponents of the climate legislation -- has "resonance and is memorable," the memo warns. Thus the best way to counter that claim is to provide voters with another dollar figure, especially because they have shown willingness to support some cost increases.

"Voters in our groups are willing to weigh competing claims about the real costs of clean energy reform," the memo advises. "It would be helpful if the entire progress community agreed on a cost figure -- a unified message here would make it more credible."

Reprinted from Greenwire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500